How do you get into a creative mindset?

John Cleese, who writes, acts and does comedy, says that creativity is not an ability or a talent.

It is unrelated to IQ.

It is simply an ability to play.

It all starts with spending time in what he calls ‘open’ mode, where you enjoy curiosity for its own sake. It’s humor-inclined and playful, with no pressure to get things done quickly. To get into open mode, you create certain conditions:

space–hide away from demands

time–delineate a start time and an end time before you even start.

time again–you need enough time to ride out the discomfort. Urgent and trivial things are easier than big, unknown things. Your mind might race; ignore it. Tolerate the anxiety. After a time, your mind will quieten.

time yet again–when you’re creating, don’t take the first idea or solution. Play with it longer, despite discomfort

confidence–nothing is wrong when you’re being creative. As Cleese says, “any drivel may lead to a breakthrough.”

humor–this is the fastest way from closed mode to open mode, because it relaxes.

Once you have the idea, you can work on it outside of open mode, in what Cleese calls ‘closed’ mode. Closed mode doesn’t do creativity. This is when ideas and solutions are implemented. It’s the ‘to do’ mode, characterized by action, purpose, and maybe tension.

You need both modes to get a creative project out into the world, but it all starts with regularly spending time in open mode.


Get my Thursday Postcard in your inbox!

Are you considering world domination by writing books? Sign up for biweekly writing tips and resources from an experienced editor (me), discounts on writing courses, and timely treats. No spam, unsubscribe any time.